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Point Austin: They're Not 'Pro-Life'

The health care cuts are anti-women and anti-family

By Michael King, Fri., Feb. 3, 2012

CommUnityCare in Hancock Center
CommUnityCare in Hancock Center
Photo by John Anderson

By the numbers, this is what "pro-life" looks like:

22: Texas clinics – providing preventive health care services to women – completely defunded

$19 million: Remaining annual state budget for family planning, down from $50 million

60,000: Women whom the Department of State Health Services estimates can be served with that amount, compared with the average 244,000 served annually since 2005

184,000: Women served by the federally funded Women's Health Program in 2010, now in danger of losing services because of state's insistence on excluding Planned Parenthood clinics (2011 estimate: 185,000-200,000)

11: Texas Planned Parenthood clinics – none of which provided abortion services – closed for lack of funding

33,974: Screenings for sexually transmitted infections provided by those 11 clinics

1.5 million: Number of Texas women in need of basic, preventative health care service; before last year's cuts, about 15% of those women were receiving services

22%: Anticipated increase in the number of Texas abortions in the absence of access to reproductive health services

It is difficult to summarize how hypocritical and counterproductive is the right-wing assault on women's health care, disguised as a righteous defense against abortion or Planned Par­ent­hood. The list above features some of the most striking statistics from Jordan Smith's ongoing coverage of the Texas women's health care crisis, revisited today (see "The Destruc­tion of Texas Health Care") because the budget cuts enacted last spring are rippling through the state's patchwork system.

That list doesn't even touch on what will be an inevitable spike in Medicaid births with their increased costs (thousands of dollars for unplanned births instead of hundreds for preventive care) or the consequent pressure on local property taxes. It does not address the Texas health insurance scandal, which leaves 20% or more of the population with little effective access to preventive health care, now further restricted. Nor does it touch specifically on Austin-area numbers, where CommUnityCare will be expected nearly to double its intake of basic-needs clients from defunded clinics, with virtually no increase in funding.

That is what "pro-life" looks like.

Mandating Suffering

On the presidential campaign trail, our governor bragged about defunding Plan­ned Parenthood, so these numbers – especially the anticipated increase in abortions – should make him happy. Ditto for state Sens. Bob Deuell and Tommy Wil­liams, whose self-aggrandizing campaigns against Planned Parenthod are bearing such rich fruit.

We can also applaud the rest of the Republican presidential field, who pretend that in attacking "Obamacare" they're defending "personal freedom" against "federal mandates," rather than mandating that many millions of Americans do without basic health care, under a very old principle: The rich and the poor are equally free to do without health insurance.

Elections Matter

I asked a couple of local legislators who watched the budget carnage last year to comment on the current health care situation and any prospects they might see for a different direction.

Rep. Donna Howard emphasized that the effect of the cuts is to increase expenses while pushing those costs down on local jurisdictions. "We've already seen that there's an association between unintended pregnancies and lack of prenatal care, with problems that may occur with premature deliveries, with low-birth-weight infants, with subsequent issues of health for the child as the child develops, as well as impacts with the woman being able to get a job, and be able to provide child care. The list goes on and on. There's a real multiplier here and the impacts of the cost on society – just by virtue of not giving this woman a couple of hundred dollars in preventive care."

Rep. Elliott Naishtat noted similar consequences: "The programs we're talking about – women's health services – we're talking about well-woman checkups, and breast and cervical cancer screenings, and Pap tests, screenings for and treating sexually transmitted diseases, HIV tests, family planning – and ultimately, the state will end up spending so much more money to treat whatever may develop that is preventable. And it's going to be low-income people, and it's not only going to be hurtful to them, but it's going to hurt the state of Texas."

Howard pointed particularly to the "male-dominated Legislature" (79% of legislators are men). "I hate to sound sexist," she said, "but until we get more women in the Legislature ... I don't think we'll start to see the change happen." Naishtat was slightly more optimistic, saying that he expects a "backlash" against these cuts, as there was after one in 2003 cut roughly 240,000 children from the Children's Health Insurance Pro­gram – perhaps electing a few more progressive legislators. "I don't know how many it will be," Naishtat said, "but even if it's just five, or six, or 10, it's going to be enough to change some attitudes, and to make the members of the House who so adamantly imposed these harsh and draconian cuts a little more sensitive to these issues."

Maybe even a little more, in actual fact, pro-life.

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